Margate Winter Gardens has been named as one of the UK’s top ten most beautiful gig venues.
BBC Music remarks that the venue, which celebrated its 106th anniversary this year, has hosted stars ranging from Laurel and Hardy to The Beatles, Blur and Motorhead!
The Pavilion and Winter Gardens took just nine months to build, costing £26,000, and opened on August 3, 1911.
When completed the Pavilion and Winter Gardens consisted of: a large Concert Hall, four entrance halls, two side wings and an amphitheatre. Originally the stage could be viewed from both the main hall and the amphitheatre with the ability to enclose the stage in bad weather. The accommodation was for about 2,500 persons inside the building and 2,000 in the open air.
The Main Hall had been designed as a concert and dance hall. In the early 1920s, the Margate Municipal Orchestra, consisting of 36 musicians, would perform a variety of classical and operatic works, backed by the leading vocalists of the day. Most of these were performers like Carrie Tubb and Harry Dearth, engaged from the leading London Concerts, notably Covent Garden. Others like Pavlova – one of the world’s leading dancers – and Madame Melba were engaged as part of their world tour.
During the latter half of the 1920s Ivan Kalchinsky’s Blue Slavonic Company arrived and presented a cabaret show for six weeks. The company was to present a summer show right up until the outbreak of the Second World War.
The Second World War, unlike the First World War, interrupted the normal life of the Winter Gardens, and within a short time almost ended it for good.
Thanet was made a restricted area, due to invasion fears, and it was prohibited to enter it for leisure or pleasure purposes. The Winter Gardens’ first war-time role was during the evacuation from Dunkirk when it acted as a receiving station for some of the 46,000 troops landed at Margate. It also found other war-time roles such as an air raid precaution and food rationing centre. There were also concerts for the troops on Sundays and Brighten-Up Dances every Thursday and Saturday.
In January 1941 many of the windows were broken when a sea mine exploded nearby, but the main structure was undamaged. Six months later, on July 7, the Winter Gardens received a direct hit causing considerable damage. The main structure of the hall remained intact and the chandeliers survived as they had been removed for storage.
The plans for reconstruction of the Winter Gardens were drawn up in 1943 but due to the war, a start on the work could not be made until February 1946. The work took only six months to complete. The building officially re-opened on 3rd August. Repairs cost £40,000, approaching double the cost of the entire building in 1911.
After the wars stars appearing at the venue included Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Dame Vera Lynne.
In the 1960s the Winter Gardens hosted Helen Shapiro, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and in July 1963 The Beatles performed there.
Stage versions of TV shows were also proving popular with Hughie Green’s ‘Double your Money’ and ‘Opportunity Knocks’. ‘Double you Money’ was the first Summer Season to appear at the Winter Gardens since 1939, it played for ten weeks during the peak of the season in 1962.
In 1974 with the formation of Thanet District Council, the Winter Gardens found itself with a new owner and a new man in charge, Peter Roberts. In 1978, it was completely re-seated, re-furbished and re-carpeted at a cost of £125,000 and a new entrance provided on the seaward side of the Main Hall.
Now under the charge of Your Leisure, the Winter Gardens continues to bring a variety of stars to Margate, including Ocean Colour Scene , Status Quo, Blur, Graham Norton and David Essex and upcoming shows with The Libertines, Lulu, Shane Filan and Elaine Paige.
History courtesy Margate Winter Gardens/adapted from ‘A History of Margate’s Winter Gardens’ by John Williams and Andy Savage.